Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

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Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. (1917-2007) was an American, liberal historian, social critic, and Pulitzer Prize winner who celebrated the liberalism of Andrew Jackson and the New Deal and wrote important biographies of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.[1] He was a leading opponent of Communism at home and abroad.


Schlesinger won his first Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Jackson, 1828-36 (1945). The book reshaped historiography by interpreting the past in light of the present. Schlesinger's work tied Jacksonian Democracy the watershed events of Andrew Jackson's presidency --especially Jackson's alliance with labor unions and his war-to-the-death with the Bank of the United States, to the liberal reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He thus linked the 19th-century expansion of democracy to mid-20th-century liberal political concerns. Although this method of history met with some criticism, particularly from conservatives, The Age of Jackson critical and popular success, appealing to a wide, general audience. Through his advocacy of the political utility of scholarship, Schlesinger set a precedent for an alliance between the postwar intelligentsia and American politics.


In The Vital Center he argued that liberalism of the Jackson-FDR variety was the "vital center" of American political life. Rejecting both ideological conservatism and radicalism, Schlesinger welcomes both flexibility and pragmatism as liberals must meet changing situations.

Along with theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, and politicians Hubert Humphrey and Eleanor Roosevelt, he founded Americans for Democratic Action as an anti-Communist bastion of liberalism.

As a Realist in foreign policy he argued that the origins of the Cold War resulted from the justifiable and wholly reasonable American response to Soviet aggression in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Move to the right

A totally new mood of disillusionment with powerful presidents (like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon) characterized The Imperial Presidency (1973) as the United States was ending its involvement in Vietnam. He warned that because of constitutional ambiguity regarding foreign affairs, the president had virtually unchecked power, what he termed a "permanent prerogative" to declare war without congressional consent, as Roosevelt had practically done in 1941. The seeming abuse of constitutional power by presidents who initiate military action without congressional approval, however, stems less from constitutional ambiguity than legislators' reluctance, particularly those in the president's political party, to use their constitutional authority, which provides legal and procedural checks on the president.[2]

Schlesinger did not believe that the Civil Rights Movement was the high point of American liberalism, but he did not attack it either. Instead he attacked multiculturalism and "bilingual education". In The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society (1992) Schlesinger endorses the melting pot theory of American history against what he calls the "cult of ethnicity."

See also

Further reading

  • Cole, Donald B. "In Retrospect: The Age of Jackson: After Forty Years." Reviews in American History 1986 14(1): 149-159. 0048-7511
  • Nuechterlein, James A. "Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., and Discontents of Postwar American Liberalism." Review of Politics 1977 39(1): 3-40. 0034-6705 critique of his realism by conservative political scientist

Primary sources

  • Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur M. A Life in the Twentieth Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950 (2000), autobiography to age 33.
  • Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur M.
  • Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur M.
  • Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur M. A Thusand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (1965), presidency of John F. Kennedy, where Schlesinger was a senior aide
  • Schlesinger, Jr. Arthur M. Robert Kennedy and His Times (1978)


  1. Houghton-Mifflin; author detail
  2. Timothy S. Boylan, "War Powers, Constitutional Balance, and the Imperial Presidency Idea at Century's End". Presidential Studies Quarterly 1999 29(2): 232-249. 0360-4918